Tomorrow I’m supposed to go and vote. And I will vote, but my approach to this vote will be very pragmatic and I’m afraid that every classic argument that has been thrown at me, as an ordinary voter, in the attempt to convince me that these elections are important and that my vote counts left me absolutely cold.
Local politicians, European political leaders, candidates, bloggers, a part of the media, celebrities from all sorts of fields… they all tried hard in the past weeks to convince me that I, the ordinary European citizen with the right to vote, HAVE TO VOTE in these elections. A series of arguments have been brought and I have to say that I find all of them to be absolutely unconvincing, boring and some of them outright lies. All these arguments are so easy to combat and even easier to ignore, that I am not surprised about the very high number of people who decide that it is not worth voting in these elections. In this post I’m going to present the counterarguments and in the end, as a person who will vote tomorrow, try to see if there are some solutions to get rid of these unproductive slogans and with what they can be replaced.
Here are the 10 arguments offered by the European Parliament itself in order to convince people to vote and the corresponding counterargument.
By voting in EP elections, you choose who influences your future and the daily life of close to 500 million fellow Europeans. If you don’t bother, somebody else will - and decide who represents you at the only directly elected Pan-European assembly. Elected MEPs shape the future of Europe for 5 upcoming years. Get the Europe you want! If you don’t vote, don’t complain.”
I say: No, my vote influences in a very little proportion how the future of Europe will be shaped over the 5 years. Not because I hold just one vote among millions, but because I vote for one MEP or for a few among hundreds and because the future of the EU is decided mainly in closed circles, behind closed doors. Did the EP or any MEP have a say in the very concrete negotiations taking place for the European treaties? NO! Who I vote for will not represent me. The classic argument that an MP or an MEP represents the voice of those of those who elected him is outdated for decades. MEP’s will represent the voices of the groups they are in and of the parties they represent at home. They don’t hold imperative mandates, none of them will ask ME, the voter, how he or she should vote in the EP.
AND STOP TELLING ME I DON’T HAVE THE RIGHT TO COMPLAIN IF I DON’T VOTE! I PAY TAXES EVERY YEAR AND I RESPECT THE LAW IN EVERY DAY OF MY LIFE! THAT GIVES ME THE RIGHT TO HAVE A SAY ABOUT HOW I AM GOVERNED!
2. They say: “MEPs – Your voice in Europe
Your MEP is your voice in Europe - why would you let it go to waste? Elected every five years, the European Parliament is a major and powerful player in European Union decision-making. Its votes shape final EU legislation that influences our everyday life, be it the food on our plates, the cost of our shopping, the quality of the air we breathe, or the safety of our children’s toys.”
I say: That’s crap and it partly repeats the previous argument! No one, absolutely no one, can speak in my place. No one asked me when the standard shape of the European tomato was decided. Let’s make it clear: the EP and the EU tell me how to leave, I don’t tell anyone how to vote over anything. I can admit my own personal voice matters once every 5 years, that’s one day in over 1820, not every day.
3. They say: “It’s your right to vote!
As a European citizen, voting in EP elections is your fundamental right and the means to have a say in how the EU works. By voting, you participate in determining who will represent real people like you, your family and friends, your neighbours and workmates in Europe. And as an EU citizen you can vote (or stand for election!) in whatever EU country you live, even if you are not a citizen of that country. And, what’s more, it won’t cost you a penny!”
I say: Voting in the EP elections may be my right, but not voting in European elections is another equally fundamental right. Voting is not mandatory for these elections, therefore I do not break any law by not voting. What is not forbidden is allowed and I have the right to act so. Besides, rights, such as the one to vote, ARE SOMETHING I CAN OPT FOR, NOT SOMETHING WHICH CAN BE ENFORCED UPON ME.
4. They say: “It’s for people and prosperity!
Young or old, student or retired, man or woman, employed or independent, mainstream or alternative, town or countrydweller, Europe concerns all of us, often without us realising! Thanks to Europe, we can easily travel, study and work abroad. The EP works tirelessly for a cleaner environment, safer chemicals, better services and jobs. It is an ardent defender of consumer rights, equal opportunities and human rights both in the EU and abroad.”
I say: It seems like you already decided what the EP is going to act for. Then why does it matter who is part of it? How can this be an argument in convincing me that my vote counts and that how I vote will shape the future, when it seems the future is already bright and is in the making even before I’m supposed to vote?
5. They say: “One poll - 375 million voters
In June 2009, You will have a unique opportunity to go to polls along with 375 million fellow European voters. What for? To elect both the world’s only directly elected transnational and multilingual parliament, and the EU’s only directly elected institution. Elected by the people since 1979, European Parliament represents today almost half a billion citizens.”
I say: Cool, but quantity is not a measure of quality. An elected body representing over half a billion citizens is not per se a good body and one vote in 375 million is not going to change that. I would rather hold 1 vote out 1000 let’s say and elect a body of 30 people who are accountable as an institution who makes decisions and not just as individuals.
6. They say: “Heavyweight MEPs
In most cases, MEPs have as much weight as the Member States in EU decision-making. Most laws that concern our daily lives are legislated side by side by MEPs and ministers at EU level. Many, probably most, laws enacted in your country are a transposition of European acts voted by MEPs - your representatives. And it’s not just laws: money for new roads, cleaner beaches, research, education, development aid? MEPs also decide where our EU money goes.”
I say: Hahahaha! The way the law looks in my country has anything to do with the EP? And I’m supposed to like and care for the EP?! I don’t know about you guys from other member states, but I invite you to come and live in Romania for a year (not as a tourist, but as a citizen with all legal rights and responsibilities) and then let me know how much you like the Romanian law, those who transposed it and those who anything to do with it in Brussels!
7. They say: “In the pipeline, even weightier MEPs
With the new Lisbon Treaty, once it can be implemented, MEPs’ decision-making powers over EU affairs will once more increase. It will place the Parliament on an equal footing as lawmaker with Member States’ ministers in virtually all areas of EU policy. The Parliament will also elect the President of the European Commission, strengthening its control over the EU executive. Furthermore, you as an EU citizen will have a right to initiate European laws.”
I say: Well, I’m sorry to be the one who brings the bad news, but the Lisbon Treaty simply does not exist. It is just some ink on a piece of paper at this point. That “once it can be implemented” is very discouraging. You might as well say: “A law has been adopted and once it can be implemented (in the future that is), everyone who votes in these 2009 elections (meaning now) will be given a car running only on water. It does not pollute, it can even fly and it will be yours for free. Once the law can be implemented…” You do something about implementing that treaty and then we’ll talk about it.
8. They say: “Your vote for diversity
Europe elects its new members in June 2009. Coming from 27 countries, these MEPs represent a wide range of national political parties, constituencies and views. In Parliament, most Members then organise themselves in political groups according to their political affinities. So Parliament, like Europe, is about diversity, prizing it and accommodating it - it even speaks 23 languages.”
I say: How cool. So you agree they represent national political parties, views etc. I would say the EP is as diverse as any other national parliament. There are a number of political parties/groups who follow their interests. What does that have to do with diversity?
9. They say: “It’s politics! It’s democracy!
Love the EU? Hate it? Want it to turn to the right? Or the left? Is there some issue you care passionately about? Are there changes you want to see? Action that can’t wait? Investments that should be made? Elect MEPs who see it your way and you could make it happen. That’s what democracy is all about. Make the difference.”
I say: No politician offered to me for voting in these elections can make a difference. No politician sees it my way and I don’t trust any politician who now says he/she sees it my way and than act completely different or not act at all. I have been disappointed too many times and I’m tired of having my vote deceived by a bunch of people who are in no way better than me.
10. They say: “It’s a small effort for a big outcome
Come on! It’s just a few minutes, maybe you can combine it with a walk in the park or a drink in a café. Not much effort to tell Europe what you want. After that it’s easy to follow what your elected members are doing for you - just visit www.europarl.europa.eu!”
I say: My vote is anonymous, Europe will never know what I want. And stop talking to me like I’m stupid and I would not want to vote based on the premise that it would be a great effort. It’s simply my choice, deal with that! And what can I do if I visit www.europarl.europa.eu and see that those I voted for do nothing for me? Is there anything I can do to change that? NO! I’m supposed to bear with that for 5 years. Yeah, right!
To this, I would add some counterarguments to a few things that have been said here in Romania in the past days. President Traian Basescu asked people to vote, saying that “Europe has done so much for us. Voting will show Europe that Romanians care about it. IT IS NOT THE POLITICIANS’ RESPONSABILITY, IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY! The turnout will influence how Romania is seen in Europe in the next years”. Another similar argument has been made by the Romanian prime-minister. “I am confident Romanians will vote and show just like other Europeans will. Let’s not fill ourselves with shame tomorrow!”, he said.
Really now? Again it’s my responsibility, the citizen’s! So it matters if for Romania’s image in Europe if I vote or not, but those I voted for can do whatever they want after that? No shit, man! And let me tell you something else. Throughout history, tons of Romanian blood have been spilled for Europe’s freedom and Romania’s contribution to European culture is enormous, to an extent that very few people know and that is never advertised. So I would say we’re pretty even. And enough with the argument that turnout decides Romania’s position. The treaties we signed and our rights as EU members decide that! Slovakia had a 17% turnout in 2004. Did they have a single problem because of that? NO. The Czechs now hold the presidency of the EU and their president is the most outspoken euroskeptic ever. Was that ever a problem for them? Don’t think so!
Throughout this campaign, I presented some aspects of the very poor electoral campaign taking place in Romania. The last week has been an even bigger disaster. The prime-minister, the president of the DLP, summed up his message saying: “Vote for the DLP candidates, they are the only ones who cab bring European money in Romania!”.
The Liberal party, which has the best list, with 4 women as top candidates, out of which 3 are very successful MEP’s, could have played the experience card very well and it could have also advertise their very successful women and gain many votes from the feminine electorate. Instead, in the last week they came out with an electoral clip in which the only person appearing is the president of the party, the guy who will represent them in the presidential elections this fall. He’s shaking hands with peasant, talking with people, going to church etc… As dull as it can get. The message displayed is: “Vote for those who can get the country out of the crisis!” and also reminds us the electoral promises of the governing parties which have been retracted by them after the last general elections. As if we are now supposed to vote for the next Romanian government.
Another DLP candidate, the 3rd on their list, in an electoral meeting in Bucharest, speaking to a crowd of young activists, said something like that: “Do you wnat techno music? We have Electro-Blaga! And don’t worry, in the fall we will give you DJ Basescu!”. “Electro-Blaga” reffers to Vasile Blaga, who is a minister in the Romanian government and is not running in the elections. “DJ Basescu” is obviously Traian Basescu, who will stand on behalf of the DLP in the presidential elections this fall. Asked by a TV reporter to explain what the candidate meant by this, another DLP candidate said only this: “He was talking to young people… What would you have wanted him to say?”. So much for the message for the young open minded generation…
The problem is that the arguments brought in favor of voting are very idealistic, while voting itself is very practical. We here these beautiful stories about democracy, how citizens have their say, how they can complain only if they vote, how they shape the future through voting etc etc… But elections are not a referendum. When the voter goes in the voting booth, he/she is supposed to vote for one candidate, for a list of candidates or for a party. A voter is told to vote because his vote shapes the future of the EU, but in the booth he has to vote for Vadim or Becali or the guy who speaks about Electro-Blaga and DJ Basescu. They don’t vote for issues, they vote for people, who can than do whatever they want after elected. Let’s face it, democracy offers not tool for citizens to control those elected. Arguing that one can no longer vote for the same person or party in the next elections does not stand, because the decisions made in the 4 or 5 years between the elections are already taken and they have effects.
In the light of such a very poor campaign, with such a poor (or poorly advertised) offer, why would anyone vote?
It is not us, the voters, who should come with solutions to that. It is politicians and decision-makers. Only treating elections seriously will convince people to vote and that the EP or the EU are important.
It is the responsibility of the leaders of European parties to check who their national member parties put forward for these elections. They are obliged to get involved. It is ultimately their image that is being contested in these elections. If their representatives in member states are unable or unwilling to explain the electorate what these elections are about and what the EP or the EU is about, they have to travel and do that themselves. People are tired of the same old local boring politicians. They want to see that there is something real out there. They want to see that the EP is actually more the Electro-Blaga and DJ Basescu and that the EU is more than just the cow who needs to be milked for money.
It is the duty of EU leaders to spread the European message and only then the people’s. Building Europe with local politicians is a futile effort. We need a real European political class. Otherwise, there will never be a real political Europe and in 50 years from now will probably have the exact same problems before the elections. If there will be any elections then, cause the turnout can drop that much that elections might be considered as useless…
Ok, I have about 15 more hours until I will go and vote. I will be one of the 20% Romanians who will vote in these elections. And guess what? Considering the candidates in Romania and the campaign, I think 20% is a very very good percentage.
Th!nk about what I’ve said above and don’t judge those who will not vote. We have to accept their arguments and work to change that. Luckily, I and many of you hold some information which allows us to vote with a fair dose of confidence that we will vote for people who can actually do something good in the EP. But based on the campaign that the party I will vote for has led, I consider I’m doing them a big favour. THEM, NOT MYSELF!
I hope to see as many of you on Th!nk About It after the elections. Have fun in Rotterdam!